We’ve all been warned to watch out for ticks while doing yard work, going for a hike, having a family picnic or being anywhere near wooded and tall grass areas — ticks’ favorite places to hang out. Lyme disease has been the number one health concern when it comes to ticks, until now.
A potentially fatal virus has been found in the United States, in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. Known as the Powassan (POW) virus, the disease is transmitted to humans by infected ticks. Anyone bitten by a tick in an area where this virus is commonly found can get infected with POW virus. It can cause severe problems, with symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.
Symptoms can begin to occur within hours of being bitten by an infected tick. Patients are also likely to become susceptible to neurological damage due to inflammation in the brain, which can also lead to meningitis.
Although this virus is more rare than Lyme disease, the symptoms and complications caused by contracting the POW virus can be much more life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of those who have survived the POW virus have permanent neurological symptoms, such as recurrent headaches, muscle wasting and memory problems. Around 10% of POW virus cases are fatal.
There are no vaccines or medications to treat or prevent a POW virus infection. While it’s believed that the Lyme disease bacterium infects individuals only if the tick has been feeding on them for at least 24 hours, the Powassan virus is believed to need only 15 minutes. The best way to keep yourself and your family safe is to know where to look for ticks and how to protect yourself from being bitten.
How to Protect Yourself From the Powassan Virus
Ticks are most active in the late spring, early summer and mid-fall. They live in moist, humid environments, most often near wooded or grassy areas. Follow these tips to keep your family safe from ticks:
1. Cut the Grass
Get rid of any tall grass or brush in your yard, even if it’s at the edge of your lawn. Ticks love to hide out in tall grass. If they’ve made a home at the edge of your lawn, chances are they’ll make their way into your yard.
2. Keep Wood Piles Neat
Wood piles are another hangout spot for ticks, especially if the wood is stacked in the shade. If you keep a wood pile, move it to a spot that gets some sun. It will dry out, and keep it from staying moist — the preferred atmosphere for ticks.
3. Use Plants
There are plenty of tick repellents available, but the majority of them contain harsh chemicals. Try planting American beautyberry bushes. Their leaves have been known to repel ticks!
4. Wear Protective Clothing
If you’re camping, hiking or spending time in a wooded area, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and pants. Ticks start low and crawl upward, so tucking pant legs into socks is a good way to keep them on the outside of your clothing, where you can brush them off.
5. Check For Ticks Before Going Indoors
After spending time outdoors, be sure to check for ticks before going inside. If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Dogs and cats are also susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases, so check your pets daily after they’ve spent time outdoors.